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Can Putting on Makeup Make Women Both Bold and Beautiful?

The link between beautification routines and assertiveness.

Key points

  • Women may exhibit a higher level of psychological assertiveness after taking steps to beautify their personal appearance.
  • Some women may engage in beautification behavior to increase both assertiveness and mood.
  • Wearing makeup might even improve academic success.
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay
Source: Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

You might have been told that putting on red lipstick gets you ready for the day, even if you don’t plan to leave the house. How does this work? We can of course name scores of celebrities who glamorized the allure of red lipstick on the red carpet as well as the silver screen. But what about the mere act of application? Sure enough, research reveals a possible link between cosmetics and self-confidence.

Beautification Can Boost Feeling Bold and Beautiful

Khandis R. Blake et al. (2020) examined whether, within the context of romantic attraction, beautification routines can increase assertiveness.[i] They began by recognizing the difference of opinion—some women describing beautification as an agentic and assertive act, while others see it as disempowering and oppressive. Exploring this divide within the context of romantic attraction, they explored the impact of beautification on psychological and behavioral assertiveness.

They had women use attire, accessories, and make-up to prepare for a “hot date,” versus a relaxed, casual day at home with friends, measuring implicit, explicit, and behavioral assertiveness as well as positive affect and sexual motivation. They found that women exhibited a higher level of psychological assertiveness after taking steps to beautify their appearance, and also found that high sexual motivation mediated the impact of beautification on assertiveness. A second experiment partially replicated the results of the first. Blake et al. conclude that their study provides new insight into the impact of appearance-enhancing behavior on assertiveness, demonstrating how beautification may positively influence women’s assertiveness under some circumstances.

Regarding whether beautification-induced assertiveness was domain-specific, Blake et al. reported inconclusive results. Although they did not find a significant effect for beautification in connection to appearance-unrelated consumer assertiveness, they discovered that beautification increased assertive behavior in a mock job interview (although they also noted that this was to the extent that it also increased sexual motivation).

Regarding potential implications to increase understanding of self-objectification, Blake et al. suggest their results might provide insight into women's motivation to engage in appearance-modifying behaviors, including self-objectification. They recognize that in many cases, such behavior is motivated by the goal of enhancing attractiveness within a romantic context, either to appeal to existing romantic partners or new ones. Yet they also note that their findings suggest women may engage in such behaviors to increase both assertiveness and mood and that, accordingly, desiring a feeling of empowerment may drive beautification practices as well as the use of appearance-enhancing products.

Application of “The Lipstick Effect”

Rocco Palumbo et al. in a piece entitled “Does Make-up Make You Feel Smarter?” sought to extend the “Lipstick Effect” to an educational setting.[ii] They defined this effect as referring to recession-motivated purchasing behavior of beauty products by young, unmarried women in order to look more attractive. They sought to explore how it might impact academic success.

They assigned 186 female undergraduate students to three groups and had them take a simulated university examination. The three groups were split up by wearing make-up, listening to positive music, and face coloring. They found that the female students who put make-up on received higher grades compared to those who did not, and they also outperformed students in a group with positive mood only, as well as students in a control group. They note that their findings, among other contributions, demonstrate the importance of studying the interaction between self-esteem and cosmetics with respect to cognition.

Self-Confidence as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

These studies complement the practical wisdom of dressing for success and putting our best foot forward. While there are many other ways in which perceiving is believing, apparently some aspects of self-presentation and preparation boost self-confidence.


[i] Blake, Khandis R., Robert Brooks, Lindsie C. Arthur, and Thomas F. Denson. 2020. “In the Context of Romantic Attraction, Beautification Can Increase Assertiveness in Women.” PLoS ONE 15 (3). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229162.

[ii] Rocco Palumbo, Beth Fairfield, Nicola Mammarella & Alberto Di Domenico (2017) Does make-up make you feel smarter? The “lipstick effect” extended to academic achievement, Cogent Psychology, 4:1, DOI: 10.1080/23311908.2017.1327635.